In 2002-03, India visited New Zealand for two Tests and seven ODIs. The tour was a disaster of rare proportions — India lost seven of the nine matches, getting thrashed 2-0 in the Test series and 5-2 in the ODI series, after New Zealand had sealed it 4-0.
India’s batting stuttered badly, averaging only 13.37 runs per wicket. In 11 innings, India’s top score was 219. There were 25 ducks out of 120 individual innings by India’s batsmen. There were only three 50s and, incredible it may appear in this mayhem, Virender Sehwag actually scored two hundreds!
Just what went wrong for India? Well, they were provided greentops all through the series. Wisden Almanack reported that the New Zealand cricket authorities had instructed groundsmen to produce fast and bouncy tracks, but a wet summer added special venom to the wickets. “The inevitable result was a sequence of greentops…” Wisden reported.
Five years ago, South Africa toured India for four Tests, five ODIs and three T20Is. They lost the Test series 3-0 — it could well have been 4-0, but after they had been bowled out for 214 and India had reached 80/0 in reply in Bengaluru, rain washed out the rest of the match. South Africa’s scores in their seven completed innings were 184, 109, 214, 79, 185, 121 and 143. The reason for the paltry scores is obvious — India had opted for sharp turners in the series.
In the ODIs and T20Is, where flat wickets are a must, SA did much better — they won the T20I series 2-0, one match being abandoned; they won the ODI series 3-2, totalling 303, 225, 270, 264, and 438 in their five innings. Clearly, the team was not substandard — they were routed only due to the extreme conditions in the Tests.
In the Tests, there were only two 50s for South Africa and four for India — apart from two 100s by Ajinkya Rahane in the fourth Test, again a bewildering anomoly.
There was criticism of pitches that turned from Day 1 in the Tests, and captain Virat Kohli stoutly defended the decision to opt for turners.
Traditionally, wickets that help batsmen are called “good wickets” because the bounce and pace are consistent on them; the greentops that help fast bowlers are not looked at with censure, generally; but the wickets that help spinners right from Day 1 are called “underprepared wickets” or “bad wickets” — that’s just cricket’s accepted terminology. During that series against South Africa, talking about wickets used in Ranji Trophy, Ravindra Jadeja said: “The wicket on which we played three Ranji Trophy matches in Rajkot, they were worse than this one — isse bhi thoda kharab wicket tha.”
Kharab wicket — that’s a wicket that helps spinners from early in the match; this coinage only reflects the centrality of batsmen in cricket from early on, when cricket’s idiom was being constructed.
Ravichandran Ashwin, who scored a 100 and took eight wickets in the second Chennai Test, is determined to drill into people’s minds — people such as former England captain Michael Vaughan — that it’s OK to have wickets that help spinners from Day 1.
“When it comes to spin, they (batsmen) want conditions to be in their favour, be it driving or cutting,” Ashwin said, and then talked about the challenges of batting on a green wicket. “On a seaming wicket, you can’t do all that when you play in the morning.”
“The same benchmarks must be set when you play spin on a challenging wicket. I would say that the challenges are far greater when the ball is moving at 140-150 kph off the deck compared to a ball spinning at 85-90 kph,” he added.
These seem valid points, worth pondering over.